More Southern Baptist Birth Control Controversy from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

I confess, I haven’t gone to chapel this semester. If I would have gone to chapel, I would have heard Dr. Thomas White deliver a sermon on Psalm 127. Here is a link to the full sermon. The controversial comments start at about 19:00.

Unfortunately, this is something that I have addressed before on this blog. Earlier this year I wrote about the views of Dorothy Patterson, wife of SWBTS President Paige Patterson, on birth control. You can check those out here and here.

The sermon by Dr. White was picked up by the local media, and I probably would not have heard anything about it had my Google News homepage not been setup to receive the local news. Here are the leading paragraphs from a WFAA article on their website:

FORT WORTH — A Southern Baptist leader and teacher has a message for women: Taking birth control pills is “murder” and a “sin.”

The opinion of Dr. Thomas White is reverberating around Baptist circles, and causing at least one Tarrant County pastor to publicly disagree.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, the Dallas Morning News picked up the story. Here is their lead-in:

Thomas White, the vice president for student services at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, created a bit of a furor when he declared at a campus chapel service earlier this month that the use of birth control pills is “murder of a life.”

Here is my opinion of the “furor:”

Statements made by religious leaders and institutions about birth control need be considered very carefully before they are made. The impact the statements make, especially in a denomination as large as the SBC could potentially reach millions of people within the SBC alone. Statements on birth control also need to be well reserached as Dr. White’s statements about BC are misleading and he offers no sources for his information and he also offers no alternatives.

I believe that Dr. White is causing an unnecessary uproar because he either failed to properly research the topic in preparation for his sermon, or he simply failed to mention the facts. Here are the facts from the Christian Medical Fellowship on hormonal methods of birth control:

the conscientiously taken low dose combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP), Cerazette (a particular POP), the Depo-Provera injection and implant Implanon are all such effective anovulants (preventing ovulation and therefore fertilisation) that it is scientifically justifiable to conclude that they operate prior to fertilisation. The fact that they are capable of blocking implantation does not mean that they ever have to use this back-up mechanism.

Obviously a forgetful COCP user, particularly if taking Loestrin 20, Mercilon or Femodette (the lowest dose UK products), might run the risk of ovulation. It is the lengthening of the pill-free interval that causes pill-failure pregnancies and ‘near-misses’. Without lengthening of the pill-free time beyond seven days through non-compliance, fertile ovulation is very rare.[9] Even if ovulation did occur without subsequent pregnancy, it does not follow that the COCP acted post-fertilisation: the sperm may have been blocked by COCP’s well-known effect on the mucus. Most experts believe that if sufficient pills were missed to cause the mucus mechanism to fail as well, there still wouldn’t be any interference beyond fertilisation; the anti-implantation effect (being the COCP’s weakest contraceptive effect) would fail also, leading to conception. Of course, one couldn’t be certain of this over many years of forgetful pill-taking. Still, we are talking about a forgetful pill-taker taking one of the weakest available pills.

If a couple hold the view that blocking implantation is a form of abortion and are worried about their own pill-taking compliance, one could recommend that they shorten their pill-free intervals and/or use the tricycle regimen (see below).

Depo-Provera (D-P) is a brilliantly effective anovulant if injected accurately every 12 weeks. For someone with concerns regarding its modes of action, there is the option of having the injection every ten weeks. This gives added confidence that ovulation is always blocked with the unacceptable back-up mechanism never being utilised.

While I’m not a doctor, in my personal research I have found that there is some controversy over the effectiveness of a progestin only pill (POP) at preventing ovulation. So, I would probably avoid that one. However, there is almost universal acceptance that combined hormonal methods are completely effective at preventing fertilization when used consistently.

Dr. White told an auditorium full of seminary students, and now whoever watches the sermon online, that the birth control pill is sinful and causes abortions. While he may be able to make an argument for that in the case of a progestin only pill, that evidence simply does not support the universal condemnation of all forms of birth control pills and claiming the sinfulness of those who use them. Statements like the one Dr. White made are irresponsible unless he has hard evidence to back up his claim and also presents all the facts, not just the ones that back up his personal convictions.

Dr. White also tries to claim that somehow using birth control goes against the Bible. This is an argument that has been tossed around for decades. I strongly agree that children are a gift from the Lord. I believe that one of the main reasons for marriage is to have children. For Christians, children are the primary way to continue to pass on Scriptural values into the next generation. However, this idea that using birth control is somehow wrong and we should all have twelve kids because they are blessings is wrongheaded and foolish.

When the Psalm was written that Dr. White cites, having a house full of kids was a necessity because it was primarily an agrarian society and the kids were necessary to keep the farm running. It was also necessary because people did not live as long and more children died before reaching maturity. Today, it would be simply irresponsible for some Christians to have that many kids. There are many families who would and do find themselves in poverty and unable to care for their families. How is it right to encourage them to have children they can’t provide for? Parents are supposed to be able to provide for their children and therefore must exercise responsibility in knowing how many children they can adequately provide for. How is it Scriptural to go and have as many kids as possible and then not be able to feed, clothe, and educate them properly?

Here is my personal opinion on the matter. My wife and I have been married for nearly three years and we do not have children yet. Following Dr. White’s reasoning, we are sinning and we apparently don’t see children as a blessing. The reason my wife and I do not have children yet is because we are trying to be as unselfish as possible when we do have kids. My wife works full time while I go to school full time. If we were to have a child now, the child would spend a good deal of time in a day care environment. The reason we are being so “selfish” is so that when we do have a baby that baby can have the best possible environment with at least one parent at home and health insurance to cover any emergencies. I don’t see that as being selfish, I see that as being wise. We are using this time before we have kids to prepare ourselves spiritually, mentally, and financially so that when Jr. comes along Jr. can be cared for. It is precisely because we see kids as a blessing that we don’t have one just yet.


11 thoughts on “More Southern Baptist Birth Control Controversy from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

  1. This is precisely why Dr. William Cutrer and I wrote The Contraception Guidebook (Zondervan/Christian Med Assn). Dr. Cutrer used to sit on the board of SWBTS, both of us hold theological degrees, and we both attend SBC churches. You are absolutely right about Psalm 127, and for anyone to state with complete certainty that the pill causes abortion–well, he’s out on a twig.

  2. Caleb – I read your post.
    Mrs. Glahn – I read your book (both the Contraception and Infertility book).

    But I think both of you are being unfair at best. To write (be it blog posts or books) that encourage the contraceptive mentality that has taken contemporary Christianity captive is about as unhelpful as it gets. As Mrs. Glahn can tell you Caleb (and Dr. White as he shared in his sermon), children cannot be presumed upon. For you and your wife to want marriage and sex but no children is an ideal that is totally foreign to Scripture. In reality, it’s those who seek their own “barrenness” who are “out on a twig”…

  3. It is sad to say that those who look down on others for their views on contraception as being “less holy” are acting like pharisees. It is the new “legalism” that is creeping into southern baptist life. You see, when people resist the move of the Spirit of God, they go one of three ways: 1) Toward God in humility, 2) toward liberalism 3) toward legalism.

    I would prefer that SBC Leaders would stop focusing on the sins they want to unearth or speak to and instead focus upon the awesomeness of our God. People don’t come to God because they realize how sinful they are…they realize how sinful they are because they have encountered God.

    Let’s teach our people how to walk by the Spirit and then they won’t walk by the flesh.

    1. I grew up Southern Baptist and am married to a seminary student. We recently moved into seminary housing, and today I encountered “the talk” about the pill from other wives. I have taken birth control for many years for medical reasons and have no intentions of stopping anytime soon– I have no convictions about it. What I am upset about is the extreme legalism, I experienced today.

      I’m ready to ask my husband to take me home. If abiding by such legalism is what is expected from us, I don’t think I want to be a part of it.

  4. Let’s be real, as a woman who has taken the pill, and was under the assumption that it was only “preventative” in nature, I have the right to know the truth. Fortunately, you can go straight to the source, the producers and see how the pill works.
    If you watch carefully how they describe how the pill works, you will see that they don’t consider the egg that is fertilized to be a baby unless it implants. They admit that the “egg” will not be able to implant as a backup method. Only problem is we as believers consider life to start at conception, when egg and sperm meet, the Planned Parenthood, and pill producers believes it starts after implantation. So they want you to believe you are not terminating a pregnancy because it was never allowed to start!!!! The truth is that little life was starved, it sought nutrition and could not find it.

  5. My husband and I have used the withdrawal method for 6 years because something never felt right physically or spiritually about birth control. I realize, though, that withdrawing aka spilling the seed is not God’s intent for sex either (and it’s becoming increasingly frustrating and suppressing), so in my desperate search for finding a balance between doing what I believe to be God’s will yet accepting the reality of living in today’s society (i.e. not needing to have umpteen kids to help on the farm) I have found Natural Family Planning to be the best solution. However, my husband and I haven’t implimented NFP yet mostly because it will take a lot of time and devotion to learn, and unfortunately, I think there is plenty of information for “Why NFP” but info is severly lacking for “How to use NFP.” All this to say, I am not Catholic, but I think Janet Smith’s “Contraception Why Not” is the most compelling argument I have come accross so far regarding God vs. contraception. I have read your opposing viewpoints of NFP, but I don’t see how any true conservative Christian can argue with Ms. Smith’s points. Caleb and others, I would love to hear your feedback on this and what you agree/disagree with as well as any relevant references to scripture or other helpful literature. Thank you so much!

  6. Even thought I wrote this post over a year ago, my position remains unchanged. I would add this thought, I think one issue that has been left out of the debate is the heart of the couple involved.

    It is clear from Scripture that children are a blessing. They are also a great responsibility and many in our culture are not willing to take on that responsibility. Instead, people selfishly put off having children so that they can buy nicer things and go on fancy vacations.

    When I look at the issue of Christians and contraception, I look at more than just the method (although that is important and needs to be prayerfully considered and researched by each couple), I try to look at the heart. While the debate over birth control will continue to rage, we would do just as well to educate Christians on the blessings of children and how vital it is that Godly children be brought into the world to continue the work of the Gospel.

    God is ultimately in control of how many children a couple will have and God is bigger than birth control. If a couple desires four children, but God only blesses them with two, that does not mean they are sinning or somehow less Christian than the family with 7 kids.

    In conclusion, the Bible is clear that God cares about the intentions of your heart. If you have prayerfully considered the issue of birth control and believe that God is leading you towards NFP, follow God. If you have prayerfully considered the pill and done your homework on it and do not feel the Spirit convicting you to stop using it, than you are fine. God convicts people about different things and on the issue of the pill we need to make sure that Christians are educated about it but we should not be legalistic in our condemnation of it and those who use it.

    Conservative Christians have a tendency to flee so far to the right that often we leave many of our equally conservative brothers and sisters floundering in the middle being bombarded by liberal ideas (don’t have any kids, you’ll destroy the environment) on one side and conservative (have 20 kids and don’t use contraception or you are violating Scripture) on the other. The result is a great deal of confusion and consternation and people making uninformed decisions.

    We need to take the approach of “Christian liberty” when it comes to birth control unless someone is obviously using or encouraging the use of a method that violates Scripture. Perhaps one day there will be a consensus on hormonal birth control, but I don’t know. Until then, there is more than enough evidence that many hormonal methods successfully prevent fertilization so that if they are prayerfully considered by a couple I do not see a problem with using them.

  7. “The fact that they are capable of blocking implantation”

    It may only happen once in a million times or the first time you use the pill. It is without a doubt when it blocks implantation that is an abortion.

  8. Its Interesting to me that you all have opinions but you choose not to give direct scripture references to the word. I have studied this and it is clear that contraception is wrong.

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